Brick & Mortar Audio Stores

Living here in the suburbs of south Florida, the closest store that I could go and try some decent headphones at is the Magnolia section of my local Best Buy… Now, they do have a nice selection of tower speakers in a demo room, and they have got quite a setup as the centerpiece of that section, with some electrostatics that I forget the model of, hooked up to a large array of some McIntosh doohickeys. When it comes to headphones though, the selection is lacking.

I was planning on taking a trip down about 50 miles to Miami to stop by a store called Soundlux Audio, but then the pandemic started.

I read so much about headphones here, and it’s always fun to window shop on websites but I feel as though going in to a physical store, where you can demo a pair of headphones, is the most common-sense way of buying a new pair of headphones or a new DAC or amplifier.

Does a brick and mortar audio store usually play a part in the process of you purchasing a new pair of headphones? What are some of the best stores to do this in around the USA? And why are none of them near me? :weary:

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https://thesourceav.com/ Torrance, CA has a nice headphones room.

headphones.com and headamp.com have good return policies if you can narrow down what you want. Hard to go wrong with a set of ZMFs either (zmfheadphones.com)

The CanJam audio shows were a great place to test out gear, but I fear that will never be the same in light of the COVID pandemic, and personal sanitation requirements for using gear moving forward.

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My nearest “brick and mortar” headphone store is a about a 400 mile round trip :wink:

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It was a brick and mortar store that started be down the road to the audiophile rabbit warren. First headphones from Rat Shack; I was probably checking tubes for my radio. Later local stereo stores - in the 70’s big box audio wasn’t a thing. WES (Watson Equipment Sales) in State College used to hold nice demos. Campus Stereo started out in somebody’s dorm room. That’s where I got the AR turntable.

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I have the “luxury” of multiple high-end audio stores in my metro area. However, be warned that (1) they usually charge full retail price, (2) they set up equipment with the pricey brands they carry and the sound may not be all that great or optimal, and (3) they routinely avoid carrying brands that sell for less online or that have reputation issues (i.e., Sennheiser buyers were said to come in to demo but then buy elsewhere; some don’t want to touch HiFiMan or Audeze products per rapidly changing models and reliability histories).

So, high-end audio can be about selling stylish “look at me” products with a massive $$$$$$$$ mark-up as about pure audio quality. Still, I’d rather have them around than not have anything to see in person.

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The odd place that I’ve had good luck with is Guitar Center. They have a decent selection of headphones, though being studio oriented not all the models / brands that you see discussed here, they are fairly easy to try out. As a plus they do have sales periodically and if you are patient you can get something nice for a good price.

Mark Gosdin

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Some nice Audio stores around your area, but the overall majority do cater to 2 chl audio.
Audio Salon : Coral Gables
Audio Advisor : Palm Beach
Soundlux : Miami
HighEnd Palace : Coral Gables ( really $$$$$)

Over in Sarasota: Suncoast Audio : ( great people , awesome 2 chl systems) made the trip down there many a time and he (Mike) is also one of the Sponsors of the Florida Audio Expo in Tampa.

Closer to my location:
The Stereo Store : Jacksonville
Holt Audio: Jacksonville
Stereotypes: Daytona

Like I noted most cater to 2 chl but some do have headphone setups. Stores that sell appliances like Bestie Buy,(Magnolia) where the person helping you might actually know more about TV’s that audio gear or headphones. Its hit and miss.

I got to hear the awesome sounding T+A HA200 driving T+A’s Solitaire P at The House of Stereo in Jacksonville. .

The best thing if and when covid is under control is an Audio Show. I miss those, not just for the equipment but seeing old friends and meeting people that I chat with on forums.

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It’s really hard to make a living off enthusiasts. They’ll buy anywhere, buy used, wear down your staff with relentless need. And then they’ll expect great customer service on the stuff they didn’t buy from you.

People are the worst.

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UK wise…

https://www.theaudiobarn.co.uk

https://hifilounge.co.uk/about-us/

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There is nothing within hundreds of miles of where I live. I typically would visit a friend in Atlanta who was also a dealer, to hear things, and also would take advantage of any high-end shops on visits to NYC or San Francisco or Berlin, or elsewhere. The Tampa show last year was fantastic for checking stuff out and led directly to my purchase (used) of the Focal Utopias. Steve at In Living Stereo (NYC) has always been great about letting you come in and audition things. But, yeah, north Florida … nothing here … gotta drive about 4 hours east or west or maybe 3 hours south.

I’ve thought about opening my own hi-fi shop, but this town is immune to the high end, I think.

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Toronto would likely have something for headphone folks but it’s mostly a side line for big time 2 channel equipment.

That’s a 4 hour round trip on a good day for me so it’s not feasible unless I’m looking at something really expensive that I’m iffy on.

Most of the stuff I’m interested in is usually ordered direct anyways, with companies that might not have a store front presence.

I think he’s in Florida, not sure if Torrance would work

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I think a store doesn’t match what you enjoy, or hear. I think the key take away from someone who is new to audio, which includes myself. At about 6 months now. Is that you don’t have the experience to tell the difference.

Second, rather than invest in something pricey. Try an array of headphones. I’m no expert and I do not expect you take my advice. But I would try the Sennhieser 6xx from drop. And a decent headphone amp, ifi zen dac and put yourself in that 400 dollar range to try some different things. See what you like

You can go with a HiFiman Sundara if you like planar.

If you are willing to get great sound with a bit of EQ you can try the HarmonicDyne Zeus.

There’s too many variables to headphones and if you’re not dishing out cash you probably aren’t going to receive multiple check marks on that list of variables. So first figure what it is you like and narrow in on a pair if headphones that posses a variation of those variables in a single headphone at a decent price.

Just some decent entry level headphones that you are probably sure to enjoy. I’m certain someone here will give you some more or already have mentioned great entry pairs of headphones.

Any headphones I get now I love because from the trash I used to use, to not knowing what is the ultimate best sound makes each experience grand.

But when you don’t have anything local than what can you do, and this pandemic is a nightmare. So even more reason to take some advice from people with experience and try your luck without breaking the bank.

Also, try open box headphones. Not for price, rather it was a demo unit or someone may have returned it. You try it, you don’t like it send it back guilt free. But don’t buy something new, open and return it just cause you don’t like it that’s the type of thing that harms brick and mortar. So something else to help maybe help you find what you are seeking

Edit: To answer your question after my gibba-gabba, online is killing a lot of stores and monopolizing the audio industry. Second, not 100% sure if this is true with headphones. But with Sound United[denon & Marantz, etc] they expect you to purchase a certain amount of units to be an authorized dealer. They on the other hand provide demo units as part of the group effort. I purchased my Marantz at an astounding deal. It was 500 dollars cheaper than the BF/cyber Monday deals I saw and a 1100 off msrp. The gentleman who owns the audio store was telling me this info because the unit I bought was a demo sent by the company and had full warranty.

As @rrwwss52 mentioned be sure to check your return policies. I’ve never tried with wired headphones but when I was in the process of getting a decent pair of wireless headphones this came in very handy and on a good note saved me a ton of money cause what people suggested I did not like.

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People travel. They also do online business. I buy open box from time to time. When I do, I’m sure of what I’m buying.

FYI, in many cases, people who buy open box headphones cannot return the item. All sales are final. That’s part of the deal for getting the discount.

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Agreed, just thought you mentioned that without realizing he said Florida.

I’ve been the source AV. They are great and they are the people who further enticed me to get into headphones after demos. But even there something to consider is they carry mostly focal, Sennhieser, and Audeze for demo availability. Probably 75% of the headphones they had were those because they gave the entire line up which is a substantial number of headphones considering those companies

That’s another can of worms.

They’ve had in-store inventory issues ever since COVID hit, and recently declared bankruptcy. Some speculated they used COVID as cover for their pre-existing problems. I’ve read about Guitar Center’s major financial issues for several years, so this wasn’t a surprise. Retail business models are abused and struggling these days. I’m not sure how they can find a footing in the online era.

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Ah weedhopper, you are learning. “You have done well, weedhopper.”

  • reference to Caine, in “Kung Fu” for you younguns.
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My son, the budding Guitar modder, wanted to buy a cheap Bass to work on. We ended up going to Guitar Center and getting a Fender Squier for him to mod.

Being the geek he is he researched the S# to see when the Bass was made … 1995.

Almost the same age as him. It’s possible that that Bass was in Guitar Center’s inventory at their South Orlando store for over 20 years. So, yes they do have issues with their business, but they are it for being able to put hands on headphones in this area.

Mark Gosdin

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And its also possible this amp was taken in on a trade. I’ve traded a few items in the GC store on North Orlando Ave when I lived in the O Town area.

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Guitar Center has a very large used/vintage business. It’s an in-store and website hybrid model. They post local items nationally and then ship across the country. It’s perhaps the largest national used source, or a peer with Ebay and Reverb.com. There’s also the Craig’s List universe, but that’s generally local.

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